USA Today publishes Trump team blueprint to spread fear and lies before midterms

It’s easy to tell what’s on Donald Trump’s mind: Just listen to his stream-of-consciousness word rambles at political rallies, or read his tweets.

To know what’s on his staff’s mind, you need to read his scripted speeches or the occasional op-ed written under his byline.

The ostensibly Trump op-ed in USA Today this morning plainly lays out his top advisers’ plans to fight Democrats in the November election by spreading what they know to be lies – confident in the knowledge that the elite political media has neither the power nor the will to prevent them from spreading.

The USA Today editors do a fine job of summarizing the op-ed’s contra-factual argument in their subhead, which ran under the headline “Democrats ‘Medicare for All’ plan will demolish promises to seniors”. The subhead:

The Democrats want to outlaw private health care plans, taking away freedom to choose plans while letting anyone cross our border.  We must win this.

There’s a simple test anyone can use to judge the integrity of a politician or a party: Are they accurately portraying the positions of their opponents — or at least coming close?

If they aren’t, then their arguments should be discounted accordingly.

By that standard, Trump’s arguments about protecting Medicare are obviously insincere and not remotely credible.

And the USA Today op-ed — which I would wager was mostly written by Trump’s most trusted and most toxic domestic adviser, Stephen Miller — is valuable only in providing a blueprint for the lies that Republican leaders intends to spread in the next four weeks.

Keep in mind that USA Today ran it with no caveats, and a promo on its website’s front page.

The op-ed is basically a collection of scare tactics. For instance, on Medicare:

The Democrats’ plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised.

The rationale is that Medicare for All

would inevitably lead to the massive rationing of health care. Doctors and hospitals would be put out of business. Seniors would lose access to their favorite doctors. There would be long wait lines for appointments and procedures. Previously covered care would effectively be denied.

That latter excerpt is actually a legitimate, if deeply flawed argument against Medicare for All. But it’s not supported by the facts in evidence – or the op-ed’s hyperlinks.

Indeed, I wonder who provided the hyperlinks for the op-ed. Consider this passage

I also made a solemn promise to our great seniors to protect Medicare. That is why I am fighting so hard against the Democrats’ plan that would eviscerate Medicare.

The article you get by clicking on eviscerate Medicare is a New York Times analysis of Medicare for All. Its conclusion is that the 56 million people currently with Medicare would have more generous coverage.”

Did White House staffers provide that hyperlink? I guess they could be that clueless. Or did someone at USA Today? And were they trying to send some sort of muffled, tiny message about the op-ed’s credibility?

The reddest meat, as it were, is in the op-ed’s second section,  under the subhead “Democrats want open-borders socialism”:

The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela.

This is a something Trump has touched on before, if not quite so directly. I wrote yesterday about his attempt to turn around critics’ arguments about the threat he poses to the rule of law. Part of that entails accusing the Democrats of wanting to turn the U.S. into Venezuela – one of the very few places where Trump takes issue with a one-party state violating the rights of its citizens.

The op-ed’s argument about Democrats wanting “open borders”, meanwhile, is rank hyperbole. It affirms that

some Democrats’ absolute commitment to end enforcement of our immigration laws by abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The “Abolish ICE” movement, when not intentionally distorted, is to rebuild a border-enforcement system that doesn’t depend on a brutal deportation squads that grab children from their mothers.

By the way, for people who’ve been paying attention to Medicare for a long time, there’s a huge irony in the first paragraph of the op-ed:

Throughout the year, we have seen Democrats across the country uniting around a new legislative proposal that would end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives.

It’s not just that expanding Medicare for All, with its philosophy and benefits recognizable and intact, doesn’t end Medicare. It’s that phrase: “end Medicare as we know it.”

Think back to when Republicans bulldozed a plan through the House in 2011 that would have privatized the existing single-payer Medicare system, replacing it with an underfunded voucher scheme. The Republicans still called it Medicare, but it wasn’t.

Back then, not terribly unlike now, leaders of the nascent fact-checking movement recognized that the massive repository of Republican falsehoods threatened to send their fact-checking out of balance unless they made tremendous efforts to call attention to Democratic falsehoods, sometimes resorting to picayune hair-splitting. That’s how a Democratic ad proclaiming that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” was named Politifact’s “lie of the year” in 2011.

Mine was among the many howls of agony over this at the time, because the statement was actually true. Politifact’s argument came down to the Democratic ad’s omission of the words “as we know it” after “Medicare.”

Now this op-ed, asserting that Democrats want to end Medicare — when they do not, remotely — comes amid a torrent of lies spewing at faster-than-Internet speeds from Trump, his White House, and his loyal party leadership.

But that doesn’t mean the press shouldn’t push back.

And today, I’m happy to say, the Associated Press shows the way.

The AP’s Zeke Miller, in a story headlined “Trump trashes Democrats’ Medicare for All plan in op-ed,” points out – in the second paragraph, no less – that the op-ed “omit[s] any mention of improved benefits for seniors that Democrats promise.”

And an AP fact-check by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar concludes that “Trump distorts Democrats’ health care ideas”.

That’s a good start.

But should USA Today have published the op-ed the way it did? News organizations typically jump to publish op-eds from major political leaders. But at the same time, editorial-page editors have a responsibility not to peddle lies and propaganda. Would an “opposing view” have been appropriate, or sufficient? I’d like to hear people’s thoughts.

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